Voices in Education: Amber Dinisio
Amber Dinisio, who was selected as the 2009-2010 Marian Greenblatt Fund Montgomery County Rookie Teacher of the Year, was interviewed March 23, 2010, at Arcola Elementary School in Wheaton where she teaches kindergarten.
Job title: Kindergarten teacher
Hometown: Ellicott City
Education Data College/University in city, state degrees received or working on, major: Howard Community College, A.A., Teaching; Towson University, B.A. early childhood education
Family: Husband, Dominic; Son Nico, 16 months
Hobby/Favorite vacation spot: "Love, love, love Ocean City, Md.," running, reading, relaxing with friends and family
Lesson to live by: Never settle for less than what you want
What made you decide to become a teacher?
I actually went back to school after pursuing a degree in interior design. I was working with children the whole time and decided that's what I really enjoyed.
What do you mean you were working with children the whole time?
I was doing child care so I was constantly working with children, all ages, and I liked it. So once I went to school for interior design and I got to my internship, didn't like it, I figured I might as well find something to do working with children because that is what I enjoyed.
Have your reasons for becoming a teacher changed since actually being in the classroom?
No, I always liked making a difference with children whether it was helping them with something such as homework or just being someone there that they could rely on. And I notice that being a teacher you're making an impact, a huge impact on their lives. Especially in kindergarten, you're setting them off on the right step for the rest of their lives.
What is the hardest part of your job?
The hardest part of my job is not enough time in the day. There is so much I want to be able to do and give them and provide them with. I want to make every lesson the best that it can be and there's only so much time in each day and there's so much in the curriculum and we try to get it all out there so that they're learning everything they need to learn but sometime you need to review things, sometimes you need to accelerate things for them and it's just difficult finding the time to get to all of those things.
What do you think about the kindergarten curriculum? Do you think it's too academic?
I have mixed feelings about the new integrated curriculum. I like it because it is integrated but I just think there's so much piled into it and it's so heavy in content that it's hard to weed out what you are going to use. There's just not enough time mixing social studies and science into your daily plans along with the writing every day. So it's hard trying to fit everything in.
Will you explain integrated, when you say integrated curriculum?
If we use a book in reading we can also use it in math, we can also use the same concept of the book in science. So if it's a book on shapes we've been using it in reading and we have been using it for retelling or picking out sight words if we use it in math it's for identifying shapes.
What is it that you most want to give your students every day? What do you most want them to leave here each day with?
I like it that they leave here feeling confident about something. Whether it's learning something new or making/improving their writing in some way or being able to spell a new word or sound out a word on their own. Just giving them something to walk away with. Not just, "Alright see you later, you're done." And they're out the door without knowing that they achieved something throughout the day.
Do you have any idea who nominated [for Marian Greenblatt Fund Montgomery County Rookie Teacher of the Year] you and why?
I do. Actually, a little boy in my class, it was his mother. She wrote a letter over Christmas break to Dr. [Marshal] Greenblatt. She had been speaking with Mr. [Eric] Wilson, our principal, about me, which I was not aware of, and he had suggested that she write a letter to Dr. Greenblatt because they have this Marian Greenblatt Educational Fund and they give out this first year teacher award.
So, what is it about you?
I didn't realize that everyone saw all these aspects of me. I know I'm hard working but, you know, there's so many other teachers out here that are doing the same thing I am doing if not more. It's just hard getting recognized for those things. I come early, I was working through my lunch a lot because I'm a first year teacher and asking questions and trying to grow professionally, observing other teachers and just constantly trying to improve my teaching. I didn't think I was anything above and beyond, I'm just trying to provide my students with the best education.
So you can't think of one little ingredient that you do that other teachers don't do then.
No, we all pretty much have the same show. We want our students to succeed, we all work hard. I guess I just made a bigger imprint on my students. Maybe it's my personality, maybe it's how I interact with them that makes them go home and tell their parents about me. Because that's how this got started, this little boy actually went home and talked about me and was just very excited about coming to school and learning and [his mother] could see the progress that he was making.
Tell me some of your secret thoughts about education, things that you think: Montgomery County does this but really what they need to do ... or who needs to step up to help educate our kids?
I think that parent involvement is a big thing that's needed. Here at Arcola we do have a lot of parent involvement. Even though we do have a high ESOL population so English is a second language we have the translation pieces that are sent home and parents are always coming in. They're wanting to be part of their student's, of their children's, education which I think is very important. You can see when we send stuff home for them to practice with their students that they're improving, they are. It's not just getting it here but getting that reinforcement at home also.
I think that sometimes there can be a lot of pressure put on math and reading and then some of the other areas are kind of put to the wayside. I'm a science girl, so I like the science area and think it's important and the kids actually enjoy it.
Also the data is a little heavy, just keeping track of all the data that you have on your students. I had done my internships in Anne Arundel and in Howard counties and coming to Montgomery County, I had heard it was a data driven county but it really is.
Is that for the students or for the administrators?
It's for both, it's to let the students know where they are in the whole scheme of things. We are constantly having data meetings and ... meetings on reading and math to see how we can improve our students... we're constantly looking at data to see where we need to get our students to be, which I think is beneficial but it's just so heavy. As a first year teacher that was very overwhelming for me at the beginning of the year.
Other than that, Montgomery County has a great education program and it seems like all the little pieces of the puzzle are being put together.
If you had one superpower what would it be?
To read minds. When these kids look at me sometimes and they're just a blank stare and I'd love to know what they are thinking. Do they want me to say it again, do they want me to ask it a different way, do they want me to just walk away, what do they want? So I would say just read their minds. To know what they are thinking.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I would have to say "Where the Wild Things Are" [by Maurice Sendak] and it's still a favorite of mine to this day.
Can you read that to your students?
Yes, we actually did read that in the beginning of the year. I just like that book because it gets your imagination going. You can always put yourself in Max's shoes and just remember when you were little and you would use your imagination to take you somewhere.
Do the children get to use their imaginations?
They do. In the writing workshop when they're writing stories they use their imaginations all the time. I even notice when they play in housekeeping or they're just playing on the carpet. It's funny just to watch them. They are so creative.
"Voices in Education" is a twice-monthly feature that highlights the men and women who are involved with the education of Montgomery County's children. If you have a suggestion for someone you would like to see featured in "Voices in Education," please e-mail Peggy McEwanat firstname.lastname@example.org.